Original article on boston.com
Mayflower sails again
Retired investment banker hops from hobbyist to full-time brewer with craft beer company
By Dave Copeland, Globe Correspondent / September 20, 2008
John Alden may have had the most important job on the Mayflower when the ship set sail from England in September 1620. Alden was the on-board cooper, charged with making and maintaining barrels that stored an essential provision – beer.
“We could not take time for further search or consideration,” William Bradford wrote of the decision to land in Plymouth more than three months after leaving Europe. “Our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.”
Just about everyone knows something about the Pilgrims’ story. Few know about Drew Brosseau – who says he is a descendant of Alden – but his new business is starting to attract attention. In January, Brosseau launched Mayflower Brewing Co., a craft beer maker based in Plymouth. The company draws heavily on the Pilgrims’ quest for beer in its marketing, even including Bradford’s quote on the packaging for the four styles of beer it distributes.
As a location, Plymouth “made sense,” Brosseau said. “There wasn’t anything down here and we had this story to tie into the marketing.”
Brosseau is an unlikely brewer. He got his start in the early 1980s when Congress lifted the last of prohibition-era laws that banned home brewing. He was an early adopter of the hobby, but kept his day job as an investment banker. When Brosseau retired from that job, he decided to pursue another career goal – building a business from scratch.
“I figured if I was going to do it, it should be something fun and something I enjoy,” he said.
Brosseau hired a staff of four, including two professional brewers and a sales director. The company expects to sell 1,000 barrels this year, with plans to double capacity in each of its first few years. Each barrel contains 14 cases, or 336 12-ounce servings.
The Brewers Association, a trade group based in Boulder, Colo., defines craft brewers as breweries that produce fewer than two million barrels per year. Counting brew pubs, there were 1,492 craft brewers in the United States in 2007, but just 392 of those were microbreweries, which produce less than 15,000 barrels per year. By comparison, Annheuser Bush produced 125 million barrels of beer in 2007.
Already, the Mayflower brand is a fixture in South Shore liquor stores, and the company’s beers – including a pale ale, golden ale, an India pale ale, and a porter – are available in 80 bars and restaurants throughout the region.
Todd Alstrom, founder of Beer Advocate, a magazine and online social network for beer fans (www.beeradvocate.com), said Mayflower may be entering the craft beer market at the right time. After an initial surge in the mid-1990s, many brewers fell by the wayside in the second half of the decade. But since 2000, craft brewers have been seeing average annual sales growth between 10 and 15 percent. As a sector, craft brewers recorded 11 percent growth in the first quarter of this year.
“Mayflower has instantly broken ground in one of the toughest beer markets in the US,” Alstrom said. “Boston is seeing an increase of new beer bars opening and existing establishments – from the average bar to fine dinning – raising the bar by introducing craft beer to their patrons. There’s also a great demand for more locally brewed beers.”
One of the craft beer companies that survived beyond the mid-1990s glory days was Long Trail Brewing Co. of Bridgewater Corners, Vt. Joe Schineller, who left his position as head brewer at Long Trail this year, said craft brewers often face unique challenges in the beverage industry.
“The biggest difference now is the cost of raw materials and packaging related to higher shipping costs,” Schineller said. “Staying close to home and growing slowly is key to building a loyal home base, as has always been the case from my experience with Long Trail.”
That could bode well for Mayflower, which Brousseau said will focus on building its business organically. The company self-distributes, which means less of an immediate market penetration, but Brousseau envisions a day when Mayflower beer will be available throughout Massachusetts and, eventually, New England.
Mayflower’s production output may make a small splash in a craft beer industry that brewed eight million barrels last year, but it has already built a loyal following. About 30 regulars drive to the firm’s inconspicuous headquarters in a Plymouth industrial park for tastings on Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Brosseau, the company’s lone investor, is confident he will be able to maintain his ambitious growth plan of doubling production each year.
“If we do that, we’ll be one of the fastest-growing start-up breweries ever,” he said.
Alstrom said that’s not a far-fetched goal.
“Many brewers are experiencing double-, and even triple-digit growth,” he said.
–By Dave Copeland, Globe Correspondent